Christian Themes

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 403

The problem of evil obviously presents a severe problem for versions of Christianity that purport to be based on reason rather than faith. Leibniz’s attempt rationally to reconcile the existence of God with the existence of evil, while influential and ingenious, faces formidable objections. As noted above, Leibniz blocks the...

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The problem of evil obviously presents a severe problem for versions of Christianity that purport to be based on reason rather than faith. Leibniz’s attempt rationally to reconcile the existence of God with the existence of evil, while influential and ingenious, faces formidable objections. As noted above, Leibniz blocks the objection that there surely seem to be better possible worlds than this one, with his doctrine of the complete concept of the individual substance, arguing that a world without the Holocaust is also a world without Mother Teresa. However, even if the questionable complete concept doctrine is accepted for the sake of discussion, thus granting it is not possible to have the actual Mother Teresa without the Holocaust, this does not mean there could not be a very similar individual who ministers to the poor of Calcutta. What reason can Leibniz give for thinking that this alternate Mother Teresa is inferior to the actual one? In addition, Leibniz now has a problem making the complete concept doctrine consistent with the role free will plays in his solution to the problem of moral evil. According to Leibniz, Mother Teresa has a complete concept that includes the truth that she devoted her life to ministering to the poor of Calcutta. However, then this is a necessary truth about her, and so it was unavoidable that she would spend her life in this way—yet if it were necessary and inevitable that she would spend her life in this way, she cannot be thought of doing this of her own free will. Thus, in using the complete concept doctrine to solve one problem in his theodicy, Leibniz creates another.

One reason the phrase “best of all possible worlds” has entered the public consciousness is that Leibniz’s optimism was ridiculed in the French writer Voltaire’s eighteenth century comic novel Candide: Ou, L’Optimisme (1759; Candide: Or, All for the Best, 1759). In that novel, Dr. Pangloss (the character representing Leibniz) keeps reassuring his naïve protégé Candide—as they endure natural disasters, disfiguring diseases, and unspeakable cruelty—that this indeed is the best of all possible worlds. At one point, a bewildered Candide exclaims, “If this is the best of all possible worlds, what must the others be like?” Many modern readers of Theodicy, after the moral horrors and natural disasters of the twentieth century, no doubt have a similar reaction to Leibniz’s philosophy.

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